The Concept and Scope Of Fiqh

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What is the concept of fiqh? What is the scope of fiqh in islam?

Fiqh literally means to know, to understand, to have knowledge of something as a whole. In Islamic legal terminology, it refers to the knowledge of a person regarding the practical rules for and against him or her. According to another definition, fiqh means to know the Shari’ah provisions pertaining to worship, daily transactions, and penal matters with their detailed evidence.[1]

Various forms of the root of fiqh are used in the Qur’an in the meaning of knowing, understanding, and perceiving.[2] The Prophet (saw) said, “If Allah wants to do good to a person, He makes him faqih (a scholar who understands the subtlety of religious rules) in religion.”[3]

In the era of the four caliphs and the followers, the word fiqh meant knowledge. The phrase al-Fiqh al-Akbar (the greatest fiqh) at that time meant the study of creed and tawḥīd; the concept of al-fiqh al-wijdānī referred to the training of self and the study of ethics; the word fiqh, when used alone, meant a field of science that dealt with the practical matters. Abu Ḥanīfa’s (d.150/767) definition of the science of fiqh as “knowledge of a person, the provisions for and against him/her” is a general definition. Since sciences such as theology, creed, ethics, and Sufism had not yet become independent disciplines at that time, Abu Ḥanīfa’s work titled “al-Fiqh al-Akbar” covered the issues of creed. However, the science of fiqh gradually began to be defined “in terms of deeds” to include only worship, daily transactions, and penal matters.[4]

The term “Islamic Law”, which has recently started to be used instead of fiqh (usually as its translation), covers the provisions related to transactions, penal law, and inheritance, excluding the acts of worship.

The subject of fiqh is the actions of the person who is responsible for Islamic orders and prohibitions. Such actions can be in the form of “commandment (amr)” such as establishing your prayers, or “prohibition (nahy)” such as the prohibition of theft, or “permissibility (mubāḥ)” such as eating and drinking. The obligation of sane and adolescent people with the provisions of Shari’ah is expressed with the term ahliyyah (legal competence). Religious provisions related to the acts of worship, transactions, and penal law are called “Shari’ah.” This word is also used in the sense of religion. In this case, it includes all the creed and practical provisions. However, the term shari’ah is generally used for rulings related to the actions. Accordingly, it expresses the practical and external aspects of the divine system.

A person who knows the science of fiqh is called “faqih.” Its plural form is “fuqaha.” This word is used in the sense of “mujtahid” in the science of fiqh. A mujtahid is a person who has the knowledge and ability to deduce religious rulings from its sources. Muftī means the person who issues fatwa. A jurist who is not qualified as a mujtahid is called a muftī because he narrates and transmits the words and fatwas of other mujtahids, and the answer given by a jurist to an Islamic issue is called a fatwā. Fatwā has a more specific meaning than ijtihād.

There is no need for ijtihād regarding the issues that are clearly and definitively decided in the Qur’an and Sunnah, and regarding the issues resolved by the consensus of Muslim jurists (ijmā). Apart from these, secondary and practical problems are analyzed, besides the primary sources, based on secondary sources such as istiḥsān, maṣlaḥa, custom, and the shariʿahs of the previous religions, which is an area where ijtihād and fatwa mostly take place.

Some jurists who lived in the era of both the Companions and the followers were knowledgeable enough to break new ground for a school of fiqh (madhhab) with their fatwas and ijtihāds on various subjects. Aisha, Abdullah ibn Umar, Abdullah ibn Masʿūd (r. anhum), and their like were such individuals. Seven Medinan jurists from the generation of the followers and Nafi (d.117/735) from Medina, Alqama ibn Qays (d.62/682), Ibrahim al-Nahai (d.96/714), Hammad Ibn Abi Sulaiman (d.120/738) from Kufa, and Hasan al-Basri (d.110/728) from Basra can be mentioned among them.

The first two-hundred-year period of the Abbasids (750-1258 A.D.) is the period when fiqh was compiled and developed, and great imams and mujtahids were trained. These were the following jurists: Sufyan Ibn Uyayna in Mecca; Malik Ibn Anas in Medina; Hasan al-Basri in Basra; Abu Ḥanīfa and Sufyan al-Thawri in Kufa; al-Awzai in Damascus; Shafiʿi and Lays Ibn Ṣaʿd in Egypt; Ishaq ibn Rahuya in Nishapur; Ahmad Ibn Ḥanbal, Dawud al-Zahiri and Ibn Jarīr al-Tabari in Baghdad. Each of them had different ijtihād systems and methods and views deducted by employing those methods. However, most of these systems did not survive because they did not have adequate adherents over time, could not present the Islamic fiqh as a whole and as a legal system, or because they, as in the case of the Zahirites, did not accept analogy and acted harshly against the other schools.

Yet, the schools attributed to Abu Ḥanīfa, Shafiʿi, Malik, and Ahmad ibn Ḥanbal did survive and have been accepted by the great masses of the people. On the other hand, some Shia branches and moderate Kharijites also continued to exist to this day. We will briefly talk about the representatives of all of these various schools and their main features below.

[1] Ibn Abidīn, Radd al-Mukhtar, Beirut 1272 H. I, 34; Muhammed Abu Zahra, ʿUṣūl al-Fiqh, 1958 n.p., p. 6, 7.

[2] Al-Nisā, 4: 78; al-Aʿraf, 7: 179; Hud, 11: 91; al-Tawba, 9: 122.

[3] Al-Bukhari, ʿIlm, 10.

[4] See Mecelle, Article 1.

Source:  Basic Islamic Principles (ʿilmi ḥāl) According to the Four Sunni Schools With Evidence From The Sources of Islamic Law, Prof. Hamdi Döndüren, Erkam Publications

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